Title: A Day shall come
Author: Olalekan Ajayi
Publisher: Ebony Books
Reviewer: Henry Akubuiro
How do you expect a broth to taste after two years of being in the making? If you are a gourmet, the answer is pretty simple: it is either the broth would taste better or bitter, depending on the condiments or master chef behind the cooking. A Day Shall Come is Olalekan Ajayi’s debut collection of poems, but this bard doesn’t sound like a greenhorn. His is a product of twenty years gestation.
In the “Introit” section, the poet leads us to his cerebral universe. His choice of title is “Right of Passage”, and, like a prophet of old, he never bears swords but “Just a calabash of ink” and “famished sheet”. Ajayi makes it clear that the bardic enterprise isn’t for all-comers. Hence: “Only the circumcised hearts embrace the Muse”. The poet’s journey is one of solitude, he tells us. Like a mad man, voices ring in his head: “They bid me speak, write in measured wrongs”.
In doing this, the poet subjects himself to privations. Food doesn’t matter to him in this scribal engagement. Hence: “My parched tongue and empty bowels mock me/ The scroll shall be my bread and ink my drink”. From his experience, the fact is laid bare that, to begin your poetic ministry, the bard has to undergo rigorous tutelage. After Ajayi’s immersion in the bardic fold, he is a changed person. He admits: “With my free verses and blend of new forms/ I shall better the art of poetasters.” There is no feeling of ennui.
A Day Shall Come is structured in eight sections dealing with poetry itself, his angst, birth and rebirth, love, hope, life, and tributes. From his poetic testaments, it is crystal clear that Ajayi, the former literary editor of Observers newspaper, is a discipline of the Neruda school of poetry, to whom solitude and emotional interrogation are a fine art in order to distill the bardic process.
Mind you, the words came to the poet pure, undiluted, and his role is to beautify it with tropes, as he hints in the poem “Guardians of the Word”. No matter how the swords attempts to silence Nigerian poets, new voices will always emerge with vehemence: “The word did not die/ From darkness emerged/ New voices/ Voices that uttered the word louder….”
In the Angst section, Ajayi begins with “A Difficult Path” where the voice finds himself at the intersection of confusion on the path to take to his destination. It is a moody atmosphere in “Abomination” where laughter deserts the personas because of the retrogressive goings-on around. What do you expect when the farmlands are famished?
Aluta Continua echoes the poem “August 19, 1994”. Here, the poet captures the mood of a group of protesting, miffed students, united against “Decrees by the bespectacled dictator”, charging towards “the despot’s palace”. Ajayi captures the tragic end of the uprising when he pens: “Sullen faces returned to the citadel/Unable to tell the tales of quick deaths”. This sections feature other interesting poems such as “Broken Cord”, “Brother’s Keeper”, Confessions”, “Dungeons of Agony”, among others.
Poems in the Birth/Rebirth section dwell on issues concerning existence in a society where people are determined to assert their importance at homes, towns and kingship. The section on Redemption deviates from a mundane course to embrace a spiritual essence.
Journey motif echoes in some of these poems, whether it is Nature beckoning in “A Return” or in “Distilled Water” where they soberly return or in “For One Hundred Years” where futility has trailed relationship among Nigerians, exemplified by palm wine being carried across borders for vain amity. “What Mother told Me” is an apologia to the young wife, who has to lead a life of servitude for his husband because the society wills it.
Amour propre is in the air in the Loves Themes section. No matter the despondent air hovering Ajayi’s verses, the tingling sensation that loves kindles among lovers cannot be dumbed down for whatever reason. The pride of a lover, honeymoon, unforgettable lover, unrequited love, waiting for love and a declamation to a wife are poems that borders on womanhood and its many sides.
The titular poem “A Day Shall Come” heralds the poems in the Hope section. There is a sense of expectation here. Even if the atmosphere is overcast, it won’t last forever. The titular poem, the refrain of “Long before…” underlines the parasitic relationship between the Niger Delta and scavengers of the people’s resources sucking “out precious oil”, drowning “the fishes in our waters”, bequeathing “the moon of ugly face (result of pollution) and sending “convulsions among our children”. The poet-speaker is optimistic, nevertheless, that the day of reckoning will surely come, and “the yoke of curse will be removed.”
Life and Tributes sections are characterised by personal lyrics in which paeans subdue the pervading gloom. But in defamiliarising his diction, the poet leaves his readers bewildered in poems such as “The Message”, “Distilled Water”, etcetera, where meaning is evasive. In all, Ajayi, has carved the right niche at the right time in this debut.
Tragedy of a randy boy
Title: Tony Wants to Marry
Author: Jerry Alagbaoso
Publisher: Kraftbook, Ibadan
Reviewer: Henry Akubuiro
A dysfunctional society breeds untenable behaviours in homes. Jerry Alagbaoso is the master of familial debacles. The moral is unhidden: we have to get it right from the family setting; otherwise, the impact could be far-reaching. Imagine a society where many Tonys in Alagbaoso’s comedy, Tony Wants to Marry, abound: it is a recipe for disaster.
Even if you have an only son in the midst of girls in your family, that isn’t enough reason why you should throw caution to the winds and let him go astray. To tolerate his excesses is as bad as committing conducts unbecoming. Spare not the rod, yes.
The idea of marriage is lost on today’s youth. Searching for a wife isn’t a carte blanche to get randy, the play tells us. Marriage goes beyond that. The unemployed protagonist, Tony, is given to vain pursuits. Reminded that he needs to settle down, he decides to “sample” different girls. His lifestyle echoes that of a misguided youth cantering towards inevitable doom.
Though Tony’s mother admits that “Tony’s footloose lifestyle is becoming an embarrassment to the family” and “we must call him to order by threatening to excommunicate or disown”, her actions do not match her vow. Mr. Johnson Ezekiel, her husband, blames her for over-pampering Tony.
To address the situation, a family meeting is organised by the Ezekiels. In response to the admonition by his mother that his father is having sleepless nights because of his bad behaviours, he thunders: “Then if he does not sleep, give him a dose of sleeping tablets or capsules so that he can sleep” (p. 19). This act of buffoonery is just getting worse by the day. Come off it.
Handsome Tony is of the view that, whenever he chooses to marry, he will display a cardboard paper with the inscription “Tony wants to marry” so that ugly girls in town will steer clear. Hear him: “After all, beautiful girls should look for handsome Tony, and not the other way round…. Henceforth, you will be seeing respectable, cheering, caring and beautiful girls around from whom my wife cometh.”
As the plot develops, Tony makes good his promise of flooding the house with all manners of girls, most of whom are brought home from club houses where he regularly goes partying. Some end up drugging him and making away with valuables. His lip-service paying mother, in the heat of faceoff with the sluts, will offer fixed transport fares to make them leave the house in peace.
After having an affair with the Third Girl, Tony derides her for showing interest in marrying him: “It does not apply to those with expressways between their laps but claim to be intact and have body ordour, too” (p.34). An epileptic candidate even tries to make hay while the sun dims in the dark, and what a spectacles as Tony is scared to hell!
Alagbaoso sustains the comic effects in the play by teeming the scenes with flat characters whose aims are to teach Tony a lesson. One of them, Disguised Boy, even comes with a gun and compels him to sign off his car and father’s house. His sister, Leslie, is unhappy that “This only son syndrome is giving our family a bad name”.
Will Tony turn a new leaf? The Seventh Girl happens to be deaf and dumb, and accuses Tony of raping her by involving the police. The Eight Girl is a sharp, bad guy, who coerces him to pay 25,000 naira after a one-night stand. Too bad.
By the time Tony brings in the Ninth Girl home, the play is glissading towards climax. The girl named Tonia, is a different kind of girl: she is well mannered. If Tony thinks he is going to be business as usual, he is mistaken. She refuses to follow him to his room, creating a fuss, which leads to other family members to come to the spot.
On recognising her, Tamara admits: “She is very brilliant, disciplined, hard-working, well informed, and her general comportment is above average. It is not surprise that she has resisted going into Tony’s theatre room with him. Both her parents and herself are very religious…. I can vouch for her, and she is highly recommended for marriage to any meaningful male character” (p.67).
But Mr Ezekiel recognises the fact that Tony isn’t one of the meaningful characters, but that doesn’t stop him for soliciting for Tonia’s hand in marriage. It is a proposal she can’t just jump into, especially when a randy boy is involved. Tonia herself sums up the reality thus: “Yes, here, we are, faced with the miscellaneous lessons of a wobbling family and a societal system failure” (p.69).
Tony’s ego is instantly deflated by her speech, as he pledges to turn a new leaf. It remains to be seen whether Tonia will accept his marriage proposal or not, as Alagbaoso leaves us with an indeterminate ending and a masterly wrought drama for today’s amoral blokes.